Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kate Rusby - Make the Light

It is now a few years since I last reviewed a Kate Rusby album (see here), during which time, as I understand it, she's become a mum and put out a Christmas album, which I have to admit I've not bothered with. Bah Humbug... Christmas, thank the lord it's over. Anyway.
This album is, unlike her previous work, self-penned. Not being an avid reader of sleeve notes these days (due in no small part to how small the bloomin' writing is on the darn things) I would not have known this if I hadn't read it elsewhere.

The songs sound just the same as they usually do. Which is, of course, quite excellent.

I could bang on about each individual track, but in fact they all merge together into a wonderful calming glorious whole, leaving you with about 50 minutes of peace and tranquillity in an otherwise noisy and discordant world.
Having been a rock fan all my life, this sort of stuff should not impress me. But it does. Greatly. My previous purchase was some old noisy tosh from Them Crooked Vultures, which should be more my cup of tea given the participating artistes, but it leave me cold. Rusby leaves me warm, which is just what you want in our current icy climate. I think I'm on the change. Nurse! The screens!

Very highly recommended, 9/10, you could buy it here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Microsoft Small Basic vs Roblox

Can I commend to you a piece of software from Microsoft... how often do you get to say that? It's called Small Basic, and it's a free download.
I've been on the lookout for a programming language to encourage my 12 year old son Josh to get started on turning into a mini-version of me. I guess some dads, frustrated Wayne Rooneys, buy a football and march their kids out into the middle of a wet field. Me, I just want him to grasp the fundamentals of programming, especially as he wants one day to work for Media Molecule and develop Little Big Planet 8 or whatever.

I've not had a lot of success up to now, but this Small Basic is excellent, and after me showing him a quick demo program last evening, I couldn't prise him off it to go to bed. A breakthrough.
There are very few icons cluttering up the toolbar, and the whole process is very simple. You type code into one window, with an excellent IntelliSense system in place to help remember syntax, then hit Run and either a text window or a graphic window (or both) opens up and you get to see the results immediately.

It's entirely feasible to write little games like Snake and Breakout with this system, and there are plenty of examples on the Net to look at and learn from. Notably, the language uses a 'Turtle' to draw on the graphics screen, which I think is a Logo language like construct to make graphics a little more fun. It works, he loved it.

The beautiful simplicity (and relevance - the code looks like real Visual Basic) of Simple Basic is in stark contrast to my experience using the scripting language associated with Roblox. Now, you may not have come across Roblox, but it is an on-line game based on a Lego-like world. If you have children and they haven't heard of Roblox either, I would advise you don't tell them. Roblox, IMHO, is heroin for children. It is highly addictive. My lad has been on it for 12 months now, and shows no sign of getting bored with it, despite the fact it looks, to an adult, fairly dull and badly rendered. All I can add is that he had the briefest of dalliances with World of Warcraft recently, which appears interesting and looks marvellous - but did not stick at it more than a couple of months. I couldn't afford the fees for both, so he had to choose, and he chose Roblox in an instant.

One possible saving grace (for me) for Roblox is that it has a scripting language. Great, I thought, I'll get the little blighter into programming with that! But could I get it to work, could I coconuts. I'm a software developer of 30 years experience - and I could not get it working. Obviously some people can... maybe I'm being dense, but as an intro to programming it sucks, and I would advise against it.

Just while I'm ranting against Roblox, can I mention something? Roblox cost money to play, fair enough. But it has a currency that is vital to the kids enjoyment of the game. This currency costs real money too - not a lot, but it adds up over the months. If you were clever enough to write a good script, or you design a good costume or a game level, you can sell it to others in the Roblox community. That seems okay, you could reduce your gaming costs by being a bit clever. But even if you do, Roblox takes a percentage cut on all deals! You're enhancing their system by adding good content, and they still screw you for some cash for doing it. This is for kids remember. Humph.


The page for downloading Small Basic is currently here though I guess that might change. Highly Recommended.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Michael Collins - Carrying The Fire

I've read quite a few books by astronauts recently, and some of them are reviewed elsewhere in this blog. But so far I have to say this is my favourite. It was written in 1974, less than five years after Collins had been to the moon, and it's written so well that you almost forget that you know the outcome of the story as the plot slowly unfurls.
You know he survives, you know the three of them returned in triumph from the moon, but somehow it all seems like a fresh adventure - I think because though this man's eyes it was a different journey to how we imagine.

For him it was the culmination of years of work, but was 'just' another flight, albeit a lot 'higher' than usual!
Collins would appear to be a thoroughly nice chap, and his ability to express how he feels about the trip to the moon and what it means for us all is very well written. All in all this book is a joy to read, having something for everyone. He deals with his emotions and physical shortcomings, his relationships with the other crew, and also goes into just enough technical detail of how difficult the flight was to satisfy any reader.
As the man who didn't make it to the surface, he's always had a certain amount of sympathy from me. By coincidence I was watching a concert by Al Murray the other night on the tv and Collins was the (unnamed) butt of one of his jokes. But in fact the man had a great time on the mission, and contributed heavily to the success of the mission - and does not seem unduly upset by not having actually stepped on the surface. Indeed, it would appear Buzz Aldrin has suffered worse for having gone but not having been quite the first man on the moon.

Collins is now 80 (in 2010) - as this book was written shortly after the flight I would love to know what he's done with part two of his life, a subject on which he contemplates in this book. A problem for him, he realised, as it's tough not to see life as all downhill after having done something so amazing. I really hope it all worked out well for him.

Recommended, 10/10,

you could buy the paperback version here

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Personal History of Diecast Cars

Call me mad... but I decided to try and collect 1:43 scale models of all the cars I'd ever owned.

Had I realised the cost and difficulty involved, I would never have started... and, as you will learn below, ultimately the project led frustration and defeat!

So, what I always wanted was :
What I got was:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Head Lice The Truth

This story was told to me by one of the Mums at my kids school. I have no reason to think it's not all true.
Said Mum has a son, who doesn't like having his hair cut. But one Saturday she dragged the lad into a hair salon, plonked him down and the hairdresser set about her work. She parted his hair, and lo, there were head lice everywhere.

Off they went to the local chemist, the Mum mortified, even though, as I understand it, there's no actual need to feel ashamed about this common occurrence.
Anyway, she nervously approached the assistant, and in a low voice said "excuse me, but you have anything for head lice?"

The girl turned and started rummaging under the counter. After some time she stood, turned and shouted across the shop to a colleague, with a Polish accident:

"I'm sorry, but I cannot find any prescription here for a Mrs Headlice, where should I be looking?"

Apparently the rest of the people in the shop cracked up on hearing this, and the deeply embarrassed Mum was soon laughing along with the rest of them.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cumbrian Shootings

You know how the new government are going to have to save money from now on, to pay off our national debt?
Well... here's a suggestion for you, and I don't want to sound heartless, really I don't, but how about not wasting millions investigating the recent shootings in Cumbria?

I heard yesterday there were a hundred detectives on the case.
What the hell are they all doing? I mean they haven't got to capture anyone have they... no case to prove, no trial. What's the bloody point?
Surely what actually happened is in fact easy enough to explain. I expect a lot of us will have had a PC that worked absolutely fine for years, switched on in a morning, did the job, and gave nary a hint of a problem. Then one sunny day it switches on but is all over the place, won't do anything right, acts like a mad thing.

The same must be true for this taxi driver... something inside him snapped, and off he went on his rampage. All extremely unfortunate, but will it really do anybody any good to analyse this all to death and then come to the inevitable conclusion that he just went of his rocker?

Let's save a few bob on the national debt and just move on.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hewlett Packard - Very, very disappointing, but goodbye.

I know it’s a bit dull, but I’m going to have to have a bit of a rant about HP and their apparent very poor attitude to customers.
I’ve always been a bit of an HP fan, actually, I've owned and own three or four HP printers, a couple of scanners and several Compaq PCs.

Everything was going pretty well, until the moment when I decided to drag myself kicking and screaming into the world of Windows 7.
Then it all went Pete Tong, and, unusually, it seems that Microsoft are not really to blame… no, the buck stops with Hewlett Packard, and they have been found lamentably wanting.
My nicest, newest printer is a Deskjet 5940. “Cleverly” Windows 7 detected the printer with no drivers to download, so it just worked. Marvellous. Well, marvellous until the printer decided to print badly. No problem, I thought, clean the heads. Now then… how do you do that? In the good old XP days I’d go to some HP centre thingy and click to clean and/or align the heads… now there’s nowhere to go. Off to HPs site… yes, the printer works under W7, but no, we’ve not been arsed to allow you to do maintenance, like head cleaning. What? And that leaves me where, exactly?

And then there’s my HP Scanjet 5300C scanner. Sorry… but we can’t be arsed to write W7 drivers for it, why not throw it away and buy a new one from us? Do you really think I would?

And then there’s my sister in law’s all-in-one HP printer/scanner, an Officejet D145. She unknowingly bought (from Amazon, shame on you) an out of date ink cartridge for it. The printer just wouldn’t use it… until I removed the battery in the printer to reset the date, then it worked fine. The cartridge is a box full of ink. If it works, it works. Why does the printer refuse to use it because of a date? So they can sell more ink? I think maybe yes. Added to which, though it will work occasionally, the scanner of this great lump of a thing has started giving an error message. That error stops the printer working. There's nothing wrong with the bloody printer. But because of the scanner problem (which may be caused by another whim of HP's to sell us new kit) the whole thing is now a piece of useless junk.

I find it hard to imagine the meeting at HP where they came up with all this blatant built-in-obsolescence bullshit, but did they really think that if they take this attitude we'd run out and buy more HP kit? Frankly, after the last few weeks I may NEVER buy anything from HP again. I'm not saying Epson and the like are better, but I'm damn well going to buy from them in future until I get to find out whether they are or not...

Bye bye HP.